Don't Kill Gil
Now that he's mayor-elect rather than a mayoral candidate, Greg Nickels should put a stop to his childish campaign-trail grandstanding about Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske. Nickels' media-hungry tantrums started last March with this dig aimed at Kerlikowske's apparent failures during the murderous 2001 Mardi Gras riots: "If I'm mayor, I will hang Kristopher Kime's death certificate on my wall."
By mid-October, Nickels' campaign shtick escalated into macho hints that, if elected mayor, he would put Kerlikowske's job on the block. And at his November 16 victory press conference, Nickels talked suggestively about having a sit-down with Kerlikowske on November 20.
Firing Chief Kerlikowske would actually derail the city's efforts for SPD reform. Indeed, Nickels annoyed the black community (jeopardizing some African American support) by picking on Kerlikowske. Kerlikowske has been a strong supporter of shoring up and amping the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), which facilitates public scrutiny of the police department.
"Since I took office in January," says OPA Director Sam Pailca, "Gil Kerlikowske has been consistently supportive of this office's reform efforts. I would be concerned about a lack of momentum and consistency in these efforts [if he was gone]."
Pailca, who was hired by the department to be the citizen representative when it comes to investigating complaints against cops, says Kerlikowske has reliably supported her progressive recommendations to tune up the complainant process. For example, Pailca wanted to put a stop to the practice of routinely checking into a complainant's criminal record: "That reform was not popular with the officers," Pailca says, "but [Kerlikowske] supported me in it. He agreed that the practice could be inappropriate." (Pailca acknowledges that there are times when checking a complainant's record is germane, but says it should hardly be standard operating procedure.) Kerlikowske has also given Pailca more manpower to investigate complaints, loaning the OPA two sergeants for a number of months.
Meanwhile, Kerlikowske has supported Pailca's suggestions for department-wide reforms, like her push to end strip searches when a witness was not present.
Not only would losing Kerlikowske be a loss to police reform, but in the time it takes to recruit and hire a new chief (it took eight months to find Kerlikowske), the cop union would be able to further consolidate their stronghold on negotiations with the city--negotiations that directly threaten the power of the OPA. The search for a new chief would also create a vacuum, giving the Police Guild a disproportionate share of influence with Nickels.
Finally, once a new chief is in place, odds are he won't be as measured, competent, and progressive as the surprisingly excellent Kerlikowske.